25.11.22

THE BEATLES 1963: A Year In The Life By Dafydd Rees

It is a testament to the everlasting affection in which The Beatles are held that books like this exist, not to mention the effort that goes into their research and writing. The concept is simple: a precise and detailed account of their activities on every single day during the year of their UK breakthrough, the first year of Beatlemania, accompanied in the most part by first-hand reports from many of those who were around at the time, whether in the audience for a show, or in a support band, or who just happened to encounter them somewhere or other.

It is an extraordinary book and it will take me weeks to read it all, though I have already fast-forwarded to dates of greater than usual significance. It invites dipping but if I were to devote eight hours a day to reading it straight, from page one to page 544, I might finish it by Christmas. I am reliably informed by its editor that the word count is 309,000. Author Dafydd Rees actually delivered 477,000 and was asked to it cut back to save on print costs. 

        Even more so than the exhaustive books written by Mark Lewisohn, who evidently lent his support, Beatles 1963 is the ultimate Beatles’ nerd book but at the same time utterly gripping, at least for those of my generation who were smitten by them. If, like me, you occasionally drift back nostalgically to the summer of 1963, when ‘She Loves You’ topped the charts, when it seemed as if The Beatles were the answer to our prayers, a gift from the Gods, then this is the book for you. At the beginning of the year we didn’t know one from the other. By the end their names were carved on our hearts for ever. 

The book is also curiously moreish. I pick it up intending to spend half an hour with it, or read the entries for two or three days, and end up spending an hour or more reading the entries for a whole week. Mark Lewisohn’s books have more insight, context and comment and are written from a more scholarly perspective, but the detail that Dafydd Rees has brought to his book is mind-boggling. 

Let’s look at a random entry. I open the book at page 208, June 9. At the top is the second half of a lengthy description of the June 8 show in Newcastle, carried over from the previous page, by Heather Page, a housewife from Tyne And Wear. In a nutshell, Heather says it wasn’t a sell-out and fans weren’t screaming. But when she tried to get tickets for the Beatles’ next appearance at the same venue there were queues around the block and she couldn’t get in. 

Next up we learn that the drive from Newcastle to Blackburn took three hours, and that there were two shows at the 3,500-seater King’s Hall, their last on a 21-date UK tour with Roy Orbison. “During the second house, a group of girls got past the police cordon and rushed the stage,” writes Rees. “Eileen Tripper, a pupil at Rhyddings Secondary School, was intercepted before she could reach her favourite Beatle, John. One male teen climbed on to the ledge of the balcony. Another teen shouted ‘Up the Rolling Stones’ and was duly thumped with an umbrella by a girl nearby.”

The Blackburn Times reported: “A seething mass of fans made it to the stage at the end of the first house, but their passions had nothing on the second. Then, even a barrier of policemen failed to quench their enthusiasm, and a few succeeded in mounting the stage – almost delirious when they had actually touched a Beatle! But many more were dragged unceremoniously away, to be pitched back into the rabble.”

There’s follows an account of the show by Carole Donnelley, a solicitor’s legal assistant, who lives in Darwen. According to her, one fan jumped on stage and nicked Roy Orbison’s glasses. 

It helps the book that during 1963 The Beatles worked as if their lives depending on it. On nights off during tours they played one-nighters here there and everywhere, and when they weren’t performing they were recording, or taping shows for BBC radio or TV, or doing interviews or having their photographs taken. The only let up occurred during the second half of September when they all took a holiday, George famously visiting the USA, the first Beatle to do so, to spend time with his sister Louise, his travelling companion his elder brother Peter. Included among precise details of this trip is an account of the night George, completely unknown in the USA, played with a local band in Eldorado, Missouri. “It was like someone threw a switch in that room,” says an onlooker. “The difference was dramatic.” Louise remembers people banging their fists on tables and stamping their feet, and someone else later saying to a member of the group: “That new kid that’s trying out for your band. You’d be crazy not to take him on.”

These two extracts represent less than a quarter of a percent of the entire book. It is clear from the entries that Dafydd Rees has spent years poring through old editions local newspapers to gather his information and seeking out fans through correspondence. It’s the fans’ recollections that carry the most weight. Their memories are vivid and somehow more authentic, more personal, for their matter-of-factness. The miracle is that all these boys and girls, as they were then, remember their encounters so clearly. They are memories they will take to their graves, and they prove beyond doubt that there was far more to The Beatles than simply the music they made. Exactly what is was that caused so many of the post war generation in this country – and later the world – to accept John, Paul, George and Ringo with such passion has always been somehow inexplicable, though many have tried. Beatles 1963 might not provide the answer but it takes you there and leaves you with a sense of wonder that this really did happen. 

The book is illustrated throughout, with many photos unseen, or rarely seen, before, and all quoted contributors have supplied contemporary pictures of themselves. There is also an eight-page colour section, eight pages that seek to answer myths, and detailed source notes. RRP is £25, £18.75 on Amazon. 


17.11.22

BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN – Only The Strong Survive



I remember... I was introduced to soul music through Geno Washington & The Ram Jam Band whose 1966 album Hand Clappin’ Foot Stomping’ Funky-Butt… Live! retains a cherished place in my diminishing LP collection, and back then I always headed for the dance floor at the sound of Stax and Motown. That album formed the basis of sets performed by The Black Sheep, the premier band in my home town of Skipton, and no one sat down as they raced nonstop through ‘Ride Your Pony’, ‘Up Tight’, ‘Hold On I’m Coming’, ‘You Don’t Know Like I Know’ and a dozen more soul classics. 
        It was somehow very cool to like soul music in those days and on the cover and accompanying artwork of Only The Strong Survive, Bruce Springsteen looks fabulously cool as he leans against a cucumber-green Pontiac GTO*, its lines as sleek, smooth and retro as the music within. Like the music, this model Pontiac was produced in the sixties, between 1963 and 1974; a classic car to frame 15 classic soul covers, a few well-known, most not so, all performed with affection and enthusiasm, a lockdown inspired left turn from Bruce’s role as leader of the E Street Band, though their horns feature prominently, alongside producer and multi-instrumentalist Ron Aniello and engineer Rob Lebret. 
        It was a labour of love for this trio, of course. Their respect for this music is evident from the attention to detail – the arrangements don’t stray much from the originals – and the depth of feeling Bruce injects into the songs. On Graham Norton’s BBC TV chat show last Friday night, looking a bit uneasy alongside an eye-catchingly underdressed Anya Taylor-Joy, star of The Queen’s Gambit, he explained how soul music was his musical education, and how it has informed his work ever since. Come to think of it, the E Street Band has always played more like a soul revue than a basic rock unit. Nowadays there’s at least ten of them, often more if you count the fluid brass section. The Black Sheep only managed six, but they did have Kevin on trumpet.


        “I remember,” the opening words of the opening title track, sung by his female backing vocalists, sets the scene for all that follows, in this case a nostalgic wander down memory lane to where music made largely within a 100-mile radius of Memphis somehow managed to combine romantic heartbreak with a pulsating beat drawn from gospel churches where praising the Lord was and remains a serious business. The more enthusiastic the congregation, the more likely they were to ascend their stairway to heaven. 
        Bruce’s covers are immaculate, as you would expect, the music uplifting, joyful, a free and easy journey into Bruce’s treasure chest of favourites. There’s no attempt to update or put his own stamp on the original recordings and the emphasis is on Bruce’s vocals. He’s joined by Sam Moore on a couple but on his own for the rest, singing like a soul veteran with a direct line to the spiritual origins of Wilson P, Eddie F, Joe T, Otis R and all the rest of those guys who ushered us on to the dance floor in the sixties.
        Of the songs with which I am most familiar, ‘The Sun Ain’t Gonna Shone Anymore’ doesnt stray from the arrangement used by The Walker Brothers but loses the theatrics; ‘7 Rooms Of Gloom’ lacks The Four Tops’ silken vocals but adds drama; ‘What Becomes Of The Broken Hearted’ is throatier than Jimmy Ruffin but just as despairing; and ‘Someday We’ll Be Together’, the closer, is chock full of longing, just like Diana.
        Of the rest, I’m now a fan of ‘Nightshift’, the Commodores elegy for Marvin and Jackie, and ‘Do I Love You’, the Northern Soul classic originally recorded by the little-known Frank Wilson, for which Bruce has filmed an energetic video with a gospel choir. But the truth is every track is a winner on a gloriously uplifting side project from the man who simply doesn’t know how to stop.


*I am indebted to my old pal Frederic Manby for identifying the make and model of the car, though he had to consult another car expert, Phil Huff. Frederic and I worked together long, long ago and he went on to distinguish himself as the long-serving motoring correspondent for the Yorkshire Post. He, too, danced to The Black Sheep back in the day. 

14.11.22

DAVID ENGLISH – A Story You Won’t Read Anywhere Else

David English with England T20 cricket captain Jos Buttler

Yesterday’s celebrations following England’s win in the T20 World Cup in Melbourne were no doubt tempered by the news of the death of David English, who, uniquely, forged illustrious careers in the worlds of both music and cricket. I knew David when he was an employee, and later senior executive, of RSO Records, the label run by Robert Stigwood, the manager of Eric Clapton and The Bee Gees. 

        Later, however, he made a name for himself in cricketing circles, founding the Bunbury Cricket Club that raised vast sums for charity. He created the Bunbury Festival which offered opportunities for young cricketers. He worked at Lords for a spell. International players from all the test playing nations knew and respected David for the work he did.

        The England and Wales Cricket Board noted David’s death on their website, as follows: “In 1987, he created the annual U15s Bunbury Festival. Its impact in bringing together each year the country’s best young players has been colossal. Its graduates include Michael Vaughan, Andrew Flintoff, and Joe Root. By 2021, 1,044 Bunbury Festival players had gone on to play first-class cricket and 118 had earned international honours with England. Everyone at the ECB is saddened at the news of David’s passing.” 

        The David I used to know was a boisterous character. He acted in a few films, wrote children’s books in which cricketers became cartoon characters – Ian Buntham and Goldenhare Gower were my favourites – and he sent me one in which The Bee Gees were portrayed as furry animals. 

        He was always the life and soul of the party, forever cracking jokes, and I hope he’ll forgive me for relating this tale. 

        Each January there takes place in Cannes on the French Riviera the annual Midem Festival at which music industry business, mostly to do with song publishing and foreign licensing, is transacted, and in 1971, aged 23, I attended the event to report on it for Melody Maker. I had been told that high-class hookers from Paris come down to Cannes for the Midem week and that some were to be found in the expensive Hotel Martinez at the eastern end of La Croisette, the wide, tree-lined boulevard that separates the town from the beach and the Mediterranean beyond. So, on the second night of my week’s stay in Cannes I went to the Martinez for a late night drink to check out the action for myself. 

The Martinez bar was crowded and amongst the throng were several music industry types that I knew. One of them informed me that contributions were being sought for a kitty which would be used to engage the services of two or more girls to put on a sex show in someone’s hotel suite. Was I interested in contributing? I certainly was, so I handed over my money and waited until I was summoned.

About ten minutes later, negotiations having been satisfactorily concluded, I found myself in a spacious hotel room, waiting for the show to commence. Sufficient money had evidently been collected to secure the services of three girls, all of whom were young, slim and beautiful, two brunettes and one blonde. We sat in silence while they clambered onto a double bed, removed each other’s dresses and frolicked around in their underwear. Next, they took everything off and simulated sex, both oral and manual, but the performance was sterile, mechanical, lacking even a hint of eroticism, and some members of the audience conveyed their dissatisfaction by whistling and suggesting the girls put more effort into their work.

Eventually the guy who had arranged the show approached the girls to discuss matters. The outcome of this was that one member of the audience would be permitted to join them on the bed and they would pleasure him while we watched. It certainly wasn’t going to be me but one intrepid fellow I knew quite well, who worked for an independent record label, offered his services, stripped down to his briefs and climbed onto the bed with the girls. They soon had his underwear off but try as they might the girls were unable to stimulate him sufficiently, a situation that caused no little amusement amongst the audience which no doubt exacerbated his inability to perform. It was all slightly embarrassing. After less than ten minutes they gave up and announced that the show was over, the agreed time limit of 30 minutes having expired. As one they grabbed their clothes and headed off to the bathroom to get dressed again and we all trooped out, back down to the bar, all of us convinced the whole business had been a waste of time and money.

The name of the man who joined them on the bed? David English, of course. 



10.11.22

CHUCK BERRY: AN AMERICAN LIFE by R. J. Smith

“He didn’t have personal friends,” says Dick Allen, a showbiz agent who worked with Chuck Berry for years. “I travelled all the time with him. We were not socially friendly. He did his thing and I did mine. I did not try to crawl into his life. I have nothing bad to say about him on a personal level; we were just not personally friendly. But he wasn’t personally friendly with anybody.”

        Dick Allen’s testimony is echoed throughout RJ Smith’s engrossing biography of this most secretive of men, the nearest thing we are likely to get to a definitive portrait of a musician whose records are a key foundation stone of rock’n’roll. Berry was elusive, moderately affable when it suited him but more often immensely dislikable, an individualist who never felt the need to bare his soul to anyone, not even his wife Themetta, to whom he was married for 68 years and who gave birth to his three daughters and one son, none of whom are mentioned in the acknowledgements of a book the author proudly states is ‘unauthorised’. 

        From the book we learn what made Berry the way he was, ill-tempered and arrogant, a provocateur who never gave anything away, least of all what he felt was his due in hard cash. When he died in 2017, aged 90, he had outlived almost all of his contemporaries but enough of those who encountered him remain for Smith to have researched an extraordinary life as diligently as anyone could hope. It’s full of the stories you would expect, mind-boggling tales of meanness and avarice, sexual escapades that border on perversion, and haughtiness that implies an almost suicidal tendency to provoke, and to hell with the consequences. 

        Were it not for his frequently abhorrent sexual behaviour, Berry might be judged to have taken a heroic stand against racism. He was raised in St Louis, Missouri, and although he had homes elsewhere in the US at one time or another, he never really left. He encountered white privilege everywhere he looked and determined from an early age to behave like a privileged white man himself, especially when it came to his addiction to white women, especially blondes. This got him into lots of trouble but he took it in his stride. His bullishness was who he was. 

        With the notable exception of his first jail term, ten years (commuted to three) for his part in a bungled crime spree just after he turned 18, there isn’t much about his childhood, the pre-rock’n’roll years, though we do learn he admired the poetry of Paul Laurence Dunbar and was fascinated by cameras. As a result, the first 150 pages or so (out of 400+) of the book devote as much time to scene setting as they do to the man himself. Which is not to say that the scene setting isn’t important or, indeed, absorbing, just that biographical details take second place to the history of American blues and R&B music, the gangster-ridden early US pop record industry, Berry's varied influences and, perhaps most important, the ugly racism in America during the fifties, how it impacted on Berry and how he reacted to it.

        Smith has a free-wheeling American style of writing that rocks along like a Chuck Berry song, and he likes sentences without verbs. This suits the subject matter if not the subject, who was always laconic in interviews and, like many present day politicians, made things up or massaged the facts, not least in his own autobiography, first published in 1987. Unlike that book, An American Life is generous with the precise details on how, in 1960, Berry was given another prison sentence, this time three years for transporting a 14-year-old native American girl over state lines for sex, not to mention numerous other legal actions brought by women who sued him on sexual grounds, right up to the hidden cameras used to film women using the bathrooms in Berry Park, the country club he established in Wentzville, Missouri. 

        It therefore comes as a bit of a relief when Smith turns his attention to the music – which he writes about well – and how it was made, and how Berry came to learn about, and then react to, the ways the profits from it were shared. We learn about Johnnie Johnson’s role in the process and Smith has interviewed numerous musicians, some long-serving, from bands hired to back Berry up on the road. All have great tales to tell. Indeed, the last third of book contains countless eye-opening accounts of Berry’s ‘difficult’ behaviour while touring, wrangles over money in which Berry invariably comes out on top, his role in promoter Richard Nader’s endless series of rock’n’roll revival shows and the behind-the-scenes shenanigans surrounding the 1987 film documentary Hail! Hail! Rock’n’Roll, in which Keith Richards suffered for his prominent role. 

        In the end, though, while Smith is generous in his endorsement of Berry’s musical accomplishments, the portrait he paints is of a solitary, self-destructive, morose and hyper-sexual satyr. For all the pleasure that Chuck Berry’s music has given us, he didn’t get – or even seem to want – much pleasure in return. 

Published in the UK by Omnibus Press and elsewhere by Hachette, Chuck Berry: An American Life is well annotated and indexed, has a rather meagre 16 pages of black and white photographs and costs £20.00. 


6.11.22

REVOLVER RE-EVOLVED


Marginally more accomplished that Rubber Soul and without the flamboyance of Sgt Pepper, Revolver is widely acknowledged as The Beatles’ masterpiece, an opinion with which I concur, especially after listening to this sparkling remix and the revealing ‘work in progress’ tracks on the bonus second disc included in the 2-CD package I opted for, as opposed to the £100+ 5-CD set with all sorts of extras.

        It was 1966. The Beatles took the first three months of the year off, their first real holiday since Beatlemania broke out in 1963. Taking advantage of EMI’s generous but fiscally motivated offer of unlimited studio time at Abbey Road, they recorded the songs that appeared on Revolver between April and June, then embarked on their ill-fated final world tour in July and August. They must surely have known their touring days were coming to an end, for almost all the tracks on their seventh album were unsuitable for performing on stage with the equipment that was available to them in those days. Can you imagine Ringo yelling “Backwards guitar, George!”? None of Revolver’s songs were ever performed by The Beatles before an audience, though ‘Paperback Writer’, the single recorded concurrently, appeared in their concert sets that year.

        So much for the back story, let’s begin at the beginning. The fabulous Paul McCartney bass line on ‘Taxman’ that Weller shamelessly co-opted for ‘Start’ is even more fabulous, a deep sensuous groove that matches anything Duck Dunn played with the MGs, while George’s voice and choppy guitar benefit from a thorough clean-up. Always a terrific opener, everyone’s disapproval of Mr Wilson and Mr Heath is considerably more apparent and Paul’s short, sharp guitar solo simply explodes. More importantly, however, the off-putting stereo separation on the Revolver CD I bought 25 or more years ago, wherein the vocals are skewed towards the left speaker, has been junked in favour of a far more equitable mix across the audio spectrum. In a nutshell, it brings everything up to date. 

        Stereo remix engineer/producer Giles Martin, son of George, clarifies the technicalities of this in the accompanying booklet, explaining how modern technology enabled him to separate each recorded element – instruments and vocals – and reposition them, this despite the songs having been recorded on four-track tape. He refers to it as ‘de-mixing’, applying to Revolver the same process used during the production of the recent Beatles Get Back movie to restore inaudible dialogue on film.

        And on we go. The strings on ‘Eleanor Rigby’, Paul’s weeping widow, ring out like never before. John sounds sleepier, foggier, than ever on ‘I’m Only Sleeping’, while Ringo’s cymbals glisten and the nifty little five-note bass link between verses is deeper, craftier too. George’s sitar is spikier in ‘Love You Too’, and in the accompanying booklet tabla player Anil Bhagwat assures us it really is George playing the sitar. 

        The lovely ‘Here, There And Everywhere’ sounds like it was a recorded last week, a sumptuous ode to his love for Jane that glides like a gondola, its harmonies on a par with anything on Abbey Road’s long medley. No wonder Brian Wilson was inspired. ‘Yellow Submarine’ is almost profound and certainly happier. The guitar part in ‘She Said She Said’ is crisper, John’s vocal seemingly up in the mix, more urgent, a bit frightening actually.

        Side two and Paul’s happier, the sun shining brighter as he wishes it good day. George’s lovely cascading guitar part in ‘And You Bird Can Sing’ has more bite. You can taste Paul’s tears in ‘For No One’, its horn part blowing clear and true. ‘Doctor Robert’ bounces merrily along, John’s vocal more distinct. ‘I Want To Tell You’ sounds like it was recorded for All Things Must Pass. ‘Got To Get You Into My Life’ swings like never before. Finally, ‘Tomorrow Never Knows’ sounds more unsettling, John more persuasive, the shrieks more piercing, Ringo’s tom-tom remorselessly tolling the end of the beginning. 

        Remarkably, these 14 Revolver tracks last precisely 34 minutes and seven seconds, its longest track three minutes, its shortest just two. There’s no filler. Thats how it was done in those days. A superb album sounds even more superb. 

        It’s probably been said before but after listening to this new mix for three days, at home and in my car, I couldnt help but admire how on his Revolver songs Paul demonstrates a remarkable ability to switch moods, from the melancholia of ‘Eleanor Rigby’ to the romanticism of ‘Here, There...’, from the gloom of ‘For No One’ to the optimism of ‘Good Day Sunshine’ and feel-good vibe of ‘Got To Get You…’, with its Stax-like disco strut. Meanwhile, John is less quixotic but far more philosophical, pondering the meaning of life from an acid-drenched stupor, the pessimistic observer resigned to his lot (until Yoko came along to snap him out of it).

        The second CD in the package I bought opens with vibrant remixes of ‘Paperback Writer’ and its B-side, ‘Rain’, one of many contenders for the ‘Best Beatles B-side’ award, which is a whole other issue but, for the record, in a tight contest my vote would go to ‘Don’t Let Me Down’. Then there’s 13 outtakes, all of which sound somehow unfinished but are not without interest. John often tops and tails things with a quip, sometimes waspish, sometimes gleeful. The brass part on ‘Got To Get You Into My Life’ began as fuzz-tone guitar played by George, ‘And Your Bird Can Sing’ had McGuinn-like chiming guitars throughout and in ‘Taxman’ John and Paul sang the line ‘Anybody got a bit of money’ in falsetto. We hear John muck things up in ‘I’m Only Sleeping’, Paul’s melodious piano on the backing track to ‘For No One’ and ‘Yellow Submarine’ without the sound effects. 

        But of all these extras the best is the take of ‘Here, There And Everywhere’, spare and intimate, sounding a bit like a demo. “If pushed,” says Paul in the booklet notes, “‘Here, There And Everywhere is my own favourite of all my songs.” 


29.10.22

JERRY LEE LEWIS - A Close Encounter


Of all those rocknroll icons from the 1950s, Elvis kept himself to himself, Buddy and Eddie died, Richard (Little and Cliff), Bo and Gene eluded me and, apart from a very brief encounter at his LA girlfriend’s house, so did Chuck. But I snagged Jerry Lee one night in London, hanging around in the studio with him for a couple of hours while he recorded an album called London Sessions, and as a tribute to The Killer here’s my report from Melody Maker dated January 20, 1973, slightly edited from the original published version. 

YOU LAUGHING AT ME, BOY?

Gosfield Street, London W1: Advision Studios is where Yes create their music and put it on record.

        Last week the action at Advision was a million miles aware from Close To The Edge. Jerry Lee Lewis had taken over the studios for a whole week to cut tracks for a double album that will be issued about a month after the final note is played. That’s five weeks after the first note was played, which means there’s more than just a musical difference between Jerry Lee and Yes.

        Jerry Lee arrived at Heathrow last weekend and was pictured for the Sunday papers with his Southern Belle girlfriend. “I’m here to cut some rock and roll songs, some old, some new, that mah fans want me to do,” he told smiling reporters at Heathrow. In case there was any doubt, he also informed them he was the King of Rock and Roll.

        A host of British names have been recruited for these sessions in much the same way as BB King and Howlin’ Wolf collected British names to add a touch of glamour to their respective London Sessions albums. During the week no lesser personnel than Alvin Lee, Klaus Voorman, Rory Gallagher, Kenney Jones, Delaney Bramlett, Peter Frampton, Rik Grech, Tony Ashton and most of Head, Hands And Feet showed up at various times to accompany Jerry Lee. Of Yes there was no sign.

        Two uniformed security guards stand impassively by the doorway to the studio and every visitor is checked from a list of names at the reception before they can pass into Jerry Lee’s presence, and even then admittance isn’t guaranteed. It rather depends on whether or not Jerry Lee likes the look of your face.

        The band is playing ‘Proud Mary’ with Jerry’s son, Jerry Lee Lewis Junior, taking the vocals. Junior is 18 years old, and portly in the manner that many young men from the Southern states of America tend to be. Too many hamburgers and fries, ah guess. 

        Jerry is on piano, Albert Lee and Delaney Bramlett on guitars, Chas Hodges on bass, Kenney Jones on drums and various others making small contributions. There’s also three girl singers, all white, bawling out the lyrics. 

        “Son, take your hands out of your pockets and sing with some soul, boy,” drawls Jerry Lee in the direction of someone or other. “If you forget the words, just sing what you feel, boy.” The music commences and it goes like bomb. Lewis’ piano style is very personal: his left hand bounces up and down on the keys like an automatic lever, and his right flashes across them like lightning.

        Two rehearsals and two takes and that’s it. About 24 numbers have been recorded in this fashion all week. Vocals, guitars, piano, drums are all recorded simultaneously. Recording one instrument at a time just isn’t Jerry Lee. It might as well be a live album.

        The control room is more than crowded. Apart from the musicians there’s Jerry Lee’s ‘men’. He calls them gophers because they go for things for him, mostly sandwiches and beers. There’s also his manager Judd Phillips, brother of the legendary Sam Phillips, founder of Sun Records, who discovered Elvis. Also, Jerry’s Southern Belle is constantly at his side – it’s unwise to stare at her for too long – along with a few other ladies, two photographers, an engineer and a tape-op guy. 

When the playback stops there’s a stony silence. The respect that Jerry Lee commands is not just musical. He can cut you up with words too, so no one dares disagree with him. “Ah, ah like it,” he drawls. Everyone smiles. 

Discussion follows concerning the next song. ‘Satisfaction’ is mooted. “Ah’d like to do a song of Mick’s,” Jerry Lee tells everyone. “But Mick did that one so good it’d be like sticking a greasy noodle up some critter’s ass.” This is a cue to laugh. Often Jerry Lee’s comments, though difficult to catch through the Southern drawl, are incredibly funny. Then again, they might not be. 

Jerry Lee sits down in chair that belongs to a technician, and the thoughtless technician asks Jerry Lee to move. “You move me, boy.” Silence. “I’ll give you five hundred to a thousand you won’t move me, boy.” You can hear a pin drop in the room. No one is sure whether Jerry Lee really is as mean as he makes out or if it’s all one big joke. Then he laughs and breaks the tension. It was a joke but one that brings home the pride Jerry Lee takes in his stubborn Southern upbringing; whiskey, cotton, short hair, the Good Book, grits and country music. I wonder how he gets along with Chuck Berry at his most badass black and Little Richard at his creamy ass camp.

Jerry Lee holds court in the control room while others rehearse a number around the piano in the studio. “They’re rehearsing a song I don’t want to play,” he drawls.

In company with everyone else I laugh and shake my head. “What you shaking your head and laughing for, boy?” To my horror, this is directed at me. “You laughing at me, boy? Don’t you believe me, boy? I’ll whip you any day, boy.” Silence. My face turns red. What I don’t know is that everyone gets this treatment and it was my turn. I remain silent. I don’t know what to say.

But it passes, and Jerry Lee smiles at me and laughs and I tell him I was laughing at the musicians in the studio who were playing a number he didn’t want to play, and he agrees it’s funny and we laugh together. It seemed we were friends. Sort of. 


 



26.10.22

THE WHO - Concert Memories From the Classic Years 1964 to 1976 by Edoardo Genzolini


Memories of The Who in their prime do not f-f-fade away. They linger in the minds of those lucky enough to have seen them during the period covered by this 304-page, large format book, now translated into English from its original Italian; yet another shining testament to the lasting impact the group had on fans and a reminder of how genuinely inspiring they were to behold.

        Edoardo Genzolini was certainly inspired, so much so that he’s spent half a lifetime conceiving his book, his inspiration seeing their performance in the Woodstock movie at the age of 13. But the effect The Who had on him was more profound than simply enjoying their landmark Woodstock set on celluloid. He connected with The Who emotionally as well as physically, and his book stands as a tribute from both the heart and the head. I think it’s his way of simply saying thank you to them, for the music, the memories and the lasting influence they’ve had on his life.  

        To this end Genzolini writes introductions to each chapter that cover what The Who did, or tried to do, or wanted to do, in the years covered by the book, expanding on how their ambition somehow went beyond simply making records and performing concerts. Each intro is followed by first person accounts of shows, some by crew members who worked at theatres where The Who performed or fans who were present, a few of whom helped in some way, or somehow got backstage or to a hotel where the band was staying, just to say hello. Most such encounters are described in fascinating, personal detail, with one-on-one conversations repeated verbatim, some profound, some trivial, some hilarious. Many accounts reflect the characters of the individual members and how open they were to chatting with fans, and the impact this openness had on them, and it is clear from them all that close encounters with Pete, Roger, John and Keith are not easily forgotten. 

        Most of these accounts are illustrated by scores of pictures, many hitherto unseen, mostly black & white but some colour, of The Who on stage or its members backstage, often accompanied by the fans themselves. The quality of the photos varies from professional standard to amateur snaps taken with cheap cameras, but to have so many, upwards of 450, I hadn’t seen before, is a genuine treat, regardless of quality. Turning the pages, I was reminded of Jeff Stein and Chris Johnson’s 1973 photo book, simply titled The Who, another labour of love I greatly admired, though Concert Memories is a far more ambitious undertaking. 

        Although this book purports cover the years 1964-1976, there is an inevitable emphasis on the middle period, the years 1968, ’69, ’70, ’71 and ’73, that many consider to be The Who’s zenith. Of the shows described, some are among the most important The Who ever played – Woodstock, the IOW and both Fillmores in 1969 (there’s a whole chapter on Bill Graham and his Fillmores East and West), Leeds and Tanglewood in 1970, the Oval in 1971 – but all are very special in their own way to those who were there. 

        In a book as large as this it’s difficult to pick highlights but I chuckled at the story told by Christine Curry from Detroit whose friend Cindy went to the hotel where The Who were staying after their show at the Grande Ballroom on March 9, 1968, and spent the night with Keith Moon. “She told me that while she was in bed with him, he talked to his wife on the phone!” reports Christine. Then again, there’s Sally Mann Romano’s account of how in 1968 she left the Whiskey in LA with John and Keith in a rented Porsche, only for Keith, who was at the wheel, to abandon it at an intersection with the engine still running, apparently because he felt they could get to his hotel quicker on foot.

        Among the pictures are two from stage at the Anaheim Convention Centre, on September 8, 1967, which the author claims to be the only known shots of John smashing a bass, while Dennis Quinn tells how Pete dropped a white Fender Stratocaster into his hands from the stage at the Fillmore East in New York on April 5, 1968. One fan reports breathlessly that Roger permitted him to try on his tasselled outfit backstage. 

        There are several reports from the May 1969 shows at New York’s Fillmore, including the one where fire broke out next door, the notorious incident that resulted in Pete spending a night in jail for bashing a plain clothes cop with his guitar. “[The following night]… the tension in the Fillmore before The Who walked out onstage was unreal,” reports Mark Saull. “The energy was like something I’ve never experienced before or since. The Who were so powerful and intense it was intimidating. I remember looking at people in the audience, standing with their fists clenched, gritting their teeth like they were on a thrill ride. [The Who] looked 10 feet tall.”

        While many of the most profound anecdotes are to be found from the 1969-70 era, one from a Quadrophenia show in 1973 stands out. Guy Perry reports that at the Cow Palace, San Francisco, on November 20, 1973 – the show where Keith collapsed and had to be replaced by Scott Halpin – Pete, determined, no doubt, to compensate for his errant drummer, executed… “thirty-plus consecutive windmills during ‘Naked Eye’, an astonishing moment.” 

        These are but a tiny fraction of the delicious memories recalled, every one of them a testament to how unforgettable The Who were in their prime. 

        The book closes with reports from the “Day On The Green” shows in Oakland on October 9, 1976, and a handful of pics from Seattle Coliseum a few days later. Finally, legendary Who disciple “Irish” Jack Lyon writes movingly about how he flew to London on hearing of Keith Moon’s death, his reaction to the news and the atmosphere in Who central during this unhappy time. At the start of the book Jack had written about The Who’s last night at the Goldhawk Social Club in Shepherds Bush in 1965*, so his closing tribute to The Who’s drummer adds a touch a symmetry to a book that Pete himself writes admiringly about on the front cover flap.

        I am happy to add my own recommendation too. Published in hardback by Schiffer Publishing, The Who: Concert Memories isn’t the cheapest Who book on the market – the RRP on the back is $59.99, and in the UK Amazon are offering it for around £40 – but it’s among the very best, lovingly compiled by a true fan for true fans, those who understood the power of The Who and their music, and what it still means to those, like me, who experienced it when this wonderful group made music and performed shows that were unrivalled in rock. 


*Jack’s piece about The Who’s last night at the Goldhawk was actually commissioned by me for use in the booklet accompanying The Who: 30 Years of Maximum R&B, the 1994 4-CD box set I co-produced. At the time Pete felt it was unsuitable because of its depiction of violence. 


21.10.22

DEEP PURPLE - LONDON O2, October 20, 2022


To the 02 by riverboat, courtesy of my old friends Deep Purple, though only three survive from the group I covered extensively for Melody Maker between 1970 and 1976 and whose semi-authorised* biography I wrote in 1982. At that time the group had split and had no plans to reconvene but two years later the line-up I termed DP Mark II – organist Jon Lord, guitarist Ritchie Blackmore, drummer Ian Paice, singer Ian Gillan and bassist Roger Glover – reformed and hit the road again to promote a new album, Perfect Strangers. Since then the Purple franchise has been more or less permanently active and released a dozen more albums – two more than the group I used to write about – though Blackmore quit for good in 1993 and, sadly, Lord died in 2012, having retired amicably from the group a decade earlier.
Now touring for the first time since 2019, Paice, Gillan and Glover are joined on keyboards by Don Airey, whose CV reads like a roll call of heavy rock and has been on board since Lord’s retirement, and recently appointed guitarist Simon McBride has replaced Steve Morse who bowed out earlier this year for personal reasons. 
So, much has changed since I last saw Deep Purple at Radio City Music Hall in New York in January 1976, yet the distinctive character of the group remains unequivocally the same. The emphasis is still on soloing, predominantly guitar and keyboards, and songs that are stretched beyond recognition from the studio versions, be they well-seasoned nuggets from the catalogue of the group that plied their trade long ago, or newer pieces with which I am less familiar. The difference between the old and the new in a live setting is a greater emphasis on discipline, no doubt due to the length of time they’ve spent playing together or, simply, more rehearsal, and in a sharper, crunchier, more contemporary stage sound afforded no doubt by superior 21st century amplification. 
As befitting the only member of the group to have played in all of its line-ups, Ian Paice forsakes a drum podium and positions himself centre stage and more upfront, on the same level as everyone else. From the audiences sightline, Don Airey’s multi-layered keyboard set-up is to the right of him; Roger Glover, far more mobile than the stationary metronome he once was, is on the left of the stage; Simon McBride is on the right; with Ian Gillan in the centre when called upon to sing, a less arduous role in Purple than in most groups of their stature. 
As in times past, Deep Purple’s arrival on stage is heralded by a blaring classical piece full of drama, this one by Holst, until the lights flash and they launch their first London show since 2017 – ironically part of their ‘Long Goodbye’ tour – with ‘Highway Star’, segueing smoothly into ‘Pictures Of Home’ and ‘No Need To Shout’, all without a break. Not until the fourth song, ‘Nothing At All’, does Gillan address the large crowd who’ve been on their feet since he arrived on stage, ambling on last from the gap between the speaker cabinets behind Paice’s drums, which affords him a handy egress on those occasions when his services aren’t required. 
Don Airey on his extravagant variety of keyboards and synthesisers and the much younger, and slimmer, Simon McBride on guitar are given free rein in much the same way as Lord and Blackmore once were, with virtually every song in the evening’s set offering them opportunities to solo over and above the set pieces where they are left alone on stage to grandstand their ample skills. 
        In McBride’s case this came before ‘Uncommon Man’, dedicated by Gillan to Jon Lord, and began with a display of muted tone control effects that made his guitar sound like a cello before he reverted to the more nimble-fingered stuff that DP fans expect. A dab hand at those incisive power chords and manipulating FX foot pedals, there can be no doubt he’s a worthy replacement for the more experienced Morse and, indeed, could probably give their original guitarist a run for his money in the speed, string-bending and harmonic departments. With his trim haircut and tight Levis, he looks good too, a sleek and snappy player who oozes confidence in a demanding role. 
        Airey had the stage to himself in the prelude to ‘Perfect Strangers’ later in the set and showed himself to be equally well-equipped to step into the shoes of his predecessor. With hints of Phantom of The Opera-ish doom and glissandos galore, and a touch of JS Bach, or maybe Ludwig Van, he attacks the many tiers of electric keys at his disposal with the air of an assured maestro, conjuring up all manner of commotion on his synth yet not without some sly humour. At one point, to the delight of the crowd, he tinkled out ‘Maybe It’s Because I’m A Londoner’. 
        Ian Paice does not solo in the accepted sense but many of the songs include drum breaks and sharp modifications in tempo that require him to take a commanding role. He is as tireless as ever, the same bundle of energy at 74 as he was at 24, his hair now almost white, worn in a straggly ponytail. His namesake on vocals is still a handsome devil and, though he no longer screams in the manner he once did, his singing is more measured these days, with perhaps a shade less range but certainly more depth. His bluesy treatment of ‘When A Blind Man Cries’, the only song in the set where Purple took their foot off the accelerator, was a highlight for this reviewer.
        After Space Truckin’, delivered with persuasive, unflagging relish, the pre-encore closer was the inevitable ‘Smoke On The Water’, prefaced by a bit of noodling before McBride took up centre stage to play that riff, as piercing as it was precise, the signal for a thousand mobile phones to be held aloft. On the screen behind the band, on which graphics had been shown the whole time, a pack of cards was dealt amidst visions of smoke from the burning casino that floated over Lake Geneva all those years ago. On the cards we saw the faces of DP past and present, their old guitarist the jester, someone’s tongue firmly in cheek. 
        They came back to play ‘Hush’, that early US hit single never performed during the era when I first encountered them, followed by Glover’s bass solo, deftly handled alongside Paice, and, at the very end, ‘Black Night’, the 1970 UK number two hit that took them by surprise, paving the way for their elevation to rocks top table. Im happy to report theyre still supping from it after all these years. 

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* Five out of the ten ex-Purple musicians co-operated in the book (of the others, one blanked me, three were uncontactable and one had died), together with managers, producers and a few roadies. 

7.10.22

LESSONS IN ROCK by Ian McEwan

In “late June 1981” Roland Baines, the main character in Lessons, Ian McEwan’s new novel, attends a Bob Dylan concert at Earls Court in London, no doubt one of the five he played there between June 26 and July 1. I was at one of them, too, and though I can’t remember which night, I can recall the show, so McEwan has got it right. He might even have been there too, aged 33 and taking notes.  

        “Before the concert began Roland became aware of two long rows of Jesus Army people sitting in front of him,” he writes in Lessons. “He had not come to hear about Jesus and it was not looking good when Dylan opened with ‘Gotta Serve Somebody’. Do you? Do I? Roland kept wondering. The Jesus heads were nodding in time. It got worse with the next number, ‘I Believe In You’. Then abruptly it was better. Dylan called up old songs, joyous, bitter, some with a nasal tone of wounded sarcasm. ‘Like A Rolling Stone’, ‘Maggie’s Farm’. Where the old melody lines were once beautiful, he snatched at them, he tossed them away until only the harmonic progressions remained.”

        If he had got there on time Roland would also have watched the pink-robed gospel group that preceded Dylan and remained on stage offering choral support throughout his set, but McEwan fails to mention this. Nevertheless, this is further, maybe even conclusive, evidence to support my theory that this most illustrious of our contemporary novelists is really a frustrated rock writer. 

        Anyone familiar with McEwan’s novels will know that those set in the late 20th century and beyond contain copious references to music, mostly rock. Various characters in the books I have read are fans of a particular act or play an instrument, attend concerts, collect records or run shops that sell vinyl. In most cases the allusions to music are simply an adjunct to the main story, just added colour, but in Lessons, which I finished this week, music of various genres plays a central role in the story.

        Roland Baines is a pianist, a child prodigy assumed by his first teacher to be on the road to a brilliant career on the classical stage. Along the way he is side-tracked by sex and jazz, and winds up playing tasteful standards, show tunes and light classical pieces Liberace-style on a grand piano in a swanky hotel while its well-heeled customers wine and dine. When an old friend, a Velvets fan he hasn’t seen in years, shows up he sneaks in a few bars of ‘Pale Blue Eyes’, and when he needs a pseudonym he opts for Theo Monk. 

        All of this reminds me that in the spring of 2010 I joined a queue of McEwan fans in Hatchards bookshop on Piccadilly, my mission to obtain a personally signed copy of the author’s latest novel Solar. Bearing in mind my theory as outlined above, then in its primal stages, when it came to my turn to get a book signed I decided to offer the great man my business card and tell him that if ever he needed any help with his research into an aspect of rock music I’d be happy to oblige. 

        In truth I felt some of McEwan’s references to rock in his books were a bit stilted but I thought it best not to mention this. Indeed, fans wanting books signed by famous authors at events like this are generally sycophantic in the extreme and, after a selfie, hustled along quickly as there are many more behind them in the queue, and McEwan would clearly have been unprepared for an impudent upstart suggesting ways in which his work might be improved. Still, he took my card, on the back of which I’d written the name and URL of this blog. It seemed to me that he understood what I was saying but the conversation was very brief. 

        I am still waiting to hear from him but it gives me pleasure to report that Ian McEwan has certainly upped his rock game in Lessons which, by the way, I thoroughly enjoyed, not least because Roland shares many of my political views. Also, to a certain extent the novel is based on episodes in his McEwans own life, so maybe he was at that Dylan concert alongside me. 


4.10.22

UNSEEN 1961 BEATLES PICTURES AT CAVERN


Alert Beatles fans will have noticed that during the past 24 hours two hitherto unseen photographs of the group playing at Liverpool’s Cavern Club in 1961 have come to light. Black and white copies have appeared on the internet and one featured in this morning’s Guardian but Just Backdated has acquired colourised versions from Paul Wane whose Chorley-based R&R memorabilia company has licensed the photographs from the copyright holder.

        According to Paul, a specialist in Beatles artefacts, the pictures were taken by a teenage fan who wishes to remain nameless. “Unlike most fans he had a camera,” Paul tells me, noting that in 1961 Cavern goers were unlikely to own one. “He prefers to keep his identity secret but he knew The Beatles back in those days and even used to drive them to gigs in the suburbs of Liverpool. It’s amazing that it’s taken so long for them to be discovered.”


        Paul adds that a contact sheet in the possession of the fan/driver shows another, already circulated, shot of The Beatles at the Casbah Club and two pictures of Brian Epstein’s NEMS record store in Whitechapel where The Beatles would hang around listening to records, usually American R&B songs that they might cover. 

        The two pictures show John, Paul, George and Pete Best on stage wearing black leather trousers and white tops, which is unusual, though it does appear to be an attempt at a uniform mode of dress. Best at the back can’t really be seen, but the three front men who, along with Best, had recently returned from a three-month stint at the Top Ten Club in Hamburg, all give the impression that slap-up meals were hard to come by in Germany.

        Mark Lewisohn, the worlds foremost Beatles archivist, confirms this. “Just back from Hamburg, slogging 500 stage hours in 90 days, they are whippet-thin undernourished lads of 20 (John), 19 (Paul and Pete) and 18 (George),” says Mark. ”So slender has this marathon made them, it’s as if their heads and bodies are strangers. It’s a look emphasised by their unusual clothes – leather trousers and cotton tops. No other photos show them dressed this way.”

        Paul, who looks especially scrawny, is playing the first of his Hofner violin basses and John plays his Rickenbacker 325, both instruments bought in Hamburg on this last trip. On the left George can be seen with his Czechoslovakian-made Futurama III guitar, roughly modelled on the far superior Fender Stratocaster. In a matter of weeks, he will set it aside for a Gretsch Duo Jet. Either George or Paul play through the Gibson GA-40 amp, seen behind them, and John is using a 15-watt Fender Deluxe Tweed amp. They’ve yet to acquire, or probably couldn’t afford, the black and gold Vox AC30 amps that audiences would become familiar with in two years’ time.

        It was during this stint in Hamburg that The Beatles backed singer Tony Sheridan on five songs recorded with producer Bert Kaempfert for Polydor Records, as well as two songs without Sheridan, ‘Ain’t She Sweet’ with John on lead vocals, and ‘Cry For A Shadow’, a Shadows-like instrumental credited to Lennon-Harrison. 



        The pictures were taken three months before John and Paul visited Paris to meet up with their Hamburg friend J├╝rgen Vollmer who persuaded them to abandon their quiffs and comb their hair forward, styling it into what became known as the ‘Beatle haircut’. They are certainly the last known pictures of them prior to this defining change in image. A few days after their return from Paris a curious Brian Epstein walked into the Cavern to catch a lunchtime show. “He offered to become their manager and set them on course to change our world,” adds Mark.

There are still a few tickets left for Mark Lewisohn’s latest talk on The Beatles, Beatles/Evolver: 62 at the Bloomsbury Theatre, 15 Gordon Street, London WC1, on October 7 at 7.30pm and October 8 at 2.30pm and 7.30 pm. Tickets can be obtained from www.ucl.u/culture/bloomsbury-theatre-studio or https://www.mcintyre-ents.com/